2004 Spring Festival - Retrospective - Senior Cup

16-May-2004

4BR looks back at the Senior Cup contest and the win from the dreaded number 1 spot for Ransomes on a day when only one other band really pushed them close.


I don't know about anybody else, but it's funny what comes into the mind when listening to music sometimes.  During the Ransome performance of Eric Ball's classic test piece, the words of 'Del Boy Trotter' from 'Only Fools & Horses' struck me; 'He Who Dares Rodney' was a familiar line from the sit-com and in many ways it portrayed the Midlands-based bands performance on Saturday morning.  The bands representative wasn't over the moon (putting it politely) to pull number one out of the hat, but Ransome turned any disappointment into their advantage by taking the bull by its horns and really going for it.  Come the finish, Russell Gray and his band had produced a top class performance that would be very difficult to beat, and in the end, proved unbeatable. They certainly dared and it certainly paid off - big time. "Lovely Jubbly".

In his summoning up, adjudicator Geoff Whitham made the point that there were six bands who put performances in of merit out of the twenty competing, and overall, it has to be said, (although he didn't bring himself to say it) that the standard was a little disappointing on the day. 

A number of bands were not consistent enough all the way through to compete with Ransome and it was only when Pennine Brass and Ian Porthouse took to the stage as the next to last band of the day, that another band really threatened Ransome's cast iron grip on the title.

Journey into Freedom is a great composition and one that just about everyone has enjoyed over the years, but on the evidence of this contest, players and conductors found it really hard work.  In an era of modern repertoire, music of this ilk isn't played as much as it should be and in the end it proved a real test for a number of bands, some of whom who had MD's that knew the piece backwards. The problem was that so many had players couldn't respond in the way they wanted.

Ransome really did hit the ground running in their performance.  The start was meaningful and the sound of the band was impressive.  The themes of violence and aggression were very much in evidence but they were not overdone to become distasteful (something which was all too evident in far too many performances on the day).  The tempos were strong and all the way there was a real sense of conviction about the playing, and the band were really 'up for it' in a big way.  The romantic love theme that is the climax of the piece was beautifully tender and delivered with such style and class.  The band's principal cornet player, Tony Wyatt, took the best soloist price, but he was one of a number of soloists within the band who shone on the day, adding to the quality of the performance.

Pennine Brass is a young band that is maturing very quickly.  Under the experienced Ian Porthouse, the Huddersfield-based band were the only one on the day that came close to taking the title away from Ransome.  The work is done before the contest of course, but Ian and other members of the band, listened intently to the early performances, got used to the acoustic of the hall, and put it in practice. You wouldn't have minded being a 'fly on the wall' to hear what was said just before going on stage. 

The start was as good as anything all day, and the sound of the band had a real good feel about it.  The MD was sensible in his approach, and wasn't prepared to ask his band to do anything that they couldn't do, and the tempos were impressive and not overdone.  The end though was the best of the day and was gorgeous - a real sense of empathy between band and MD that was conveyed to the audience.  For us, we had Pennine in front, just, as it had a touch more warmth about it, but of course, the judges decided differently.   On the day's performances though, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Ransome or Pennine at the Open very soon; these two bands on this form were clearly a class above anything else in the competition and there was broad agreement in the hall when the results were announced.

BT under Michael Fowles were another band who had a late draw, and who took the opportunity to grab one of the four slots for qualification to next year's Grand Shield.  BT was solid and sensible with their approach and it worked.  The music had feeling, and unlike a number of bands on the day, had a nice balance to the sound and an interpretation that didn't take chances.  It wasn't a winning performance for sure, but deserved qualification. Workmanlike was the word to describe it, but good workmen are like hens teeth aren't they?

Ashton-under-Lyne and Philip Chalk took the final slot for next year's Grand Shield, and this was the one band that got in via the back door for us.  There was plenty of good playing on offer, but at times, it was a touch loud and overdone for us, but the judges liked what they heard, and after all, that's all that counts. After some difficult times of late nobody could begrudge them a bit of good fortune on this occasion.

A whole number of bands had chances to have taken a qualification spot but none could quite do enough with the test piece to make it into the frame. BTM, Laganvale, Newtongrange and Wingates, all had potential to make their mark, but were not consistent enough all the way through, to convince the judges.

BTM under David Hirst were drawn last, and didn't produce as much as we thought they would, and fifth will probably annoyed them.  Qualification could have been achieved but for unexpected slips, and the opening was certainly bold, and if anything, perhaps a little too bold.  The love theme at the end was their tour de force for us, but, overall, it didn't have enough in it, for them to go up a section.

Laganvale didn't have the best of starts, but recovered composure to produce a fine middle and ending to finish up sixth, whilst Newtongrange under Alan Morrison really went for it.  The opening was a cracker, but a couple of slips took the edge of things, and the overall sound began to feel OTT for us in parts.  The soloists responded well, and the end was a touch frantic, but they will have been disappointed not to come higher than seventh.

Wingates proved at the North West Regional Championships that they are back on the up.  They though will be another band kicking themselves on the way back home.  Drawn number six (and straight after Ashton) they started as though they meant business, and yes, it had real conviction. The solo players were in great form (Andy McDonald on Principal and Dave Chadwick on Sop, too name just two) but it was over-enthusiastic at times (with the troms sounding overbearing too often) to have persuaded Peter Roberts and Geoffrey Whitham that it should have been higher than eighth.

After that, the rest were a real disappointment.  As we said earlier, Journey into Freedom might not be a modern day piece, but it certainly needs playing, and a number of bands couldn't put a complete performance together that was sufficient to trouble the judges to consider them as potential qualifiers.  Balance, tuning, and playing that was at times way to aggressive and loud, were all common denominators of musical destruction for us through the day.  The Hall needed a more sympathetic acoustic appreciation and far too many bands tried to blow their way to Grand Shield glory. Peter Roberts and Geoffrey Whitham know better than to be impressed by sheer volume though, and the bands made their jobs far easier than even they could have expected by some pretty crass efforts in places. 

In the end though, it was Ransome and Pennine that really stood out from the rest with the former taking the title.  Geoffrey Whitham was quite right when he said that there six really good performances to choose from, but later on he told informed us that they had no trouble at all in picking the winners and the runners up and then placing the rest of the bands in order. For both him and Peter Roberts there were clear differences in standards of production, musicality and clarity of technique and this made their tasks much more straightforward.

Ransome return to the Grand Shield and showed that they will be a force to reckon with if they continue to play to this standard next year as well. Pennine meanwhile once again showed that there is a band of real potential here (although it is rumoured many of the bigger bands in the area are coveting many of their talented players). BT and Ashton will be very pleased with their efforts and showed that the North West has a real depth of talent in the top section. The rest though will have to make the trip back next year, some a little disappointed for sure, but on a day when there was a qualification place at least up for grabs so many just let themselves down.

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